This week I’m going to cover another one of the long time movie staples, the Private Eye movie. As always, the definition might be stretched a bit for a couple of the movies included here but also as always, these are movies I have enjoyed many times over the years. Just as with last week’s Spy movies, I sometimes have to accept some of the sexism and misogyny of these movies as products of their times without actually judging them by current standards of what is or is not appropriate.
It is difficult to start a list of movies about Private Eyes without The Maltese Falcon with Bogart as Sam Spade (and Sidney Greenstreet’s first movie role.) Bogart returns as a detective in The Big Sleep where he plays Philip Marlowe. The Thin Man starring William Powell and Myrna Loy actually started a series of movies, even though the “Thin Man” was not the “detective.” In order there were After the Thin Man, Another Thin Man, Shadow of the Thin Man, The Thin Man Goes Home, and Song of the Thin Man. It seems sequels are not such a new thing for Hollywood after all.
George Sanders had two different movie series that while not specifically “private eyes,” did have the cops being helped to catch the bad guys. There were five movies where Sanders played Simon Templar (although Louis Hayward got the role first in The Saint In New York). Sanders’ first time was in The Saint Strikes Back followed by The Saint In London, The Saint’s Double Trouble, The Saint Takes Over, and The Saint In Palm Springs. Sanders then moved on to play The Falcon in The Gay Falcon, A Date with the Falcon, The Falcon Takes Over, and The Falcon’s Brother (where Sanders passed the Falcon character on to Tom Conway who played his brother who continued the role for nine more movies.
There have been a few movies based on Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer but the one I’m most likely to watch again and again is Kiss Me Deadly. Paul Newman had his time as a PI in Harper and The Drowning Pool (with Joanne Woodward). Frank Sinatra’s PI was Tony Rome (with Jill St John) and Lady In Cement (with Raquel Welch).
The original Shaft was one of those movies that started a genre. Success seems to always breed the imitators.
Chevy Chase played Fletch in the movie of that title and Fletch Lives. He solved crimes as a journalist (though no one would confuse him with Woodward or Bernstein – but then Woodward doesn’t seem to be Woodward these days).
Other posts in this series are Essential Movies, Westerns, Historical Settings (pre-1500), Historical Settings (post 1500), Sword and Sorcery, Science Fiction, War Movies, Crime and Punishment, Music, Song and Dance – and Elvis, Sports, and Spies
And because I can: